The Historic Water Tower Museum, 914 Hillgrove Avenue Open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
On December 12, 1891 Mr. Wickerson, the village president at the time, sought the village’s right to place a water tower on land that had been originally known as “Block A.” On January 27,1892 Charles and Ruth Collins donated “Block A” to the village of Western Springs with the understanding that it be used solely as the site for a water tower and public park. The deed also specified that the land could not be used for commercial purposes either then or at any time in the future.
Design and construction of the new water tower began shortly thereafter. Both were a collaboration between Benzette Williams and Edgar Williams of the firm of Williams and Williams (which later became known as MacRichie and Nichol) and Ethan Philbrick. All three were civil engineers and residents of Western Springs. Benezette Williams and Ethan Philbrick eventually served as village presidents. The cost of the Tower combined with the sewer and pumping system and the pumping station was $79,119.10. Construction required 156 carloads of stone that was ordered from the Chicago and Naperville Stone Company. Each stone was cut and shaped by hand on site. The Tower is 112.5 feet high at its tallest point and 36.5 feet in diameter. The walls are 6 feet thick at the base and the original water tank held 133,000 gallons of water. The Tower itself, which has three floors and a basement, served as the village offices, police department, jail and police magistrate court until 1957 when the Village offices were relocated to the new fire house on Wolf Road. Even this change proved inadequate and in 1968 a new administration building was built at 740 Hillgrove Avenue.
After 65 years the tower now stood empty but thanks to a group of civic-minded individuals, the decision was made to form the Western Springs Historical Society in 1966 and the Village agreed to let them establish a museum in the Water Tower. After three years of extensive renovations, the museum opened in 1970.
Improvements and maintenance of the park has continued thanks to the efforts of residents, civic organizations, and the Village. On April 10, 1981, the Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places, as one of the few municipal water towers that also housed government offices.
At 1:00 a.m. on August 30, 1991, lightening struck the roof of the Tower and sparked a fire which smoldered until 5:00 a.m. when commuters reported 30 ft high flames. The water tank was punctured and is no longer capable of holding water. Fortunately, firefighters covered many of the valuable items in the museum with a tarp. After two years of repair and restoration, the museum reopened in 1993. The Children’s Museum on the third floor was opened in 1995.
The Historic Water Tower will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2017.
The museum consists of both permanent and rotating exhibits. Among permanent exhibits is a reconstruction of the original ticket office and original telegraph equipment from the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy train depot, built in 1890. In 2004, a replica of the 1890 train depot was constructed on the site of the original depot using drawings, photographs, and papers from the Historical Society.
We’ve added a new exhibit to the first floor honoring Western Springs’ most famous physician, Dr. Hospers. Come see a depiction of his office.
In addition, the museum contains objects of historical relevance to earlier life in the village. Household items, clothing, school supplies, tools and uniforms are among a wide variety of items displayed. Items not currently on display are stored at the Grand Avenue archives.